I read in the newspaper about your proposal to erect a 'Holocaust Names Memorial' in Wertheim Park in Amsterdam, and I must say I think it’s a good plan! That’s why I immediately adopted a name, Sara Arpels, born in Amsterdam on 29 April 1892, murdered in Sobibor on 2 July 1943. She was married to Isaäc Polak (died in Amsterdam on 10 May 1941); I don’t know what exactly she died of, only the date of death is known, but murdered seems a fitting word for what happened to her.
Why did I pick precisely this name? I was born in 1964, a son in an "ordinary" Dutch family, a normal family, not Jewish, not even religious. My parents divorced in about 1967/1968, and I remained living with my mother. She made the acquaintance of a family where a certain Uncle Dolf, as such a friend is called in Amsterdam, frequently visited. So Uncle Dolf was not a blood relation, but he was an extremely fine man, a real “uncle” who could horse about with me and my sister and brother, who could play more tricks than we could, and who above all got on really well with my mother; for years she also worked as his secretary. And to be honest, we the children hoped that one day Uncle Dolf would marry my mother so that we could all live happily ever after. Alas, that never happened.
My mother never talks about the war, and my father is already dead, but sometimes what she experienced in the past hits her almost like a scream, forcing her to utter small remarks in which I can see and hear her pain. Uncle Dolf almost never spoke about his childhood. When I moved into my first house, near Ruischstraat in Amsterdam, a Jewish district before the war, he told me that his parents’ house also had such fine tall rooms. He didn’t say anything else. So I got a huge shock when Uncle Dolf died in 2009. During his funeral I heard the true story of his life, which hit me like a bolt from the blue. Some time in 1941 his parents gave him away; his father died in Amsterdam, and his mother was murdered in Sobibor. After the war he was too afraid to even use his own family name, and during the funeral I heard for the first time that his name was Polak, and so he didn’t have the surname that I knew him by all my life. My mother didn’t want to tell me anything else, except that she’d known it for years. I respect her and her emotions.
I read that keeping your name is very important for Jewish people. That’s why it saddens me so much that my Uncle Dolf was never able to say his real name to me. It is more than sadness; it hurts me, but I respect and understand his attitude. That is why I now want to ‘adopt’ the name of his mother. I never knew her, but if her character was anything like my ‘Uncle Dolf’, she was certainly a wonderful grandmother!